Focus on Central Asia

Michele Hardy of the Nickle Galleries in Calgary recently shared this article entitled How Soviet propaganda influenced traditional Oriental carpets. Having seen similar carpets and textiles in Central Asia I found it a fascinating read.

An embroidered portrait of Molotov, dated 1934-35 from the collection of the Azerbaijani Carpet Museum in Baku

It’s difficult to be certain, but this portrait of Molotov appears to be chain stitch embroidery on broadcloth. The basic structure and outer motifs in the carpet below appear to be quite classical, but just look at the subject of the central lozenge.

Carpet from 1969 showing a laboratory. State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow.

The subject of Soviet propaganda was also examined by Irina Bogoslovskaya at the Textile Society of America Symposium in 2012 in her paper The Soviet “Invasion” of Central Asian Applied Arts: How Artisans Incorporated Communist Political Messages and Symbols. I remember being really struck by the some of the motifs Irina showed during her talk, the full text of which can be downloaded here. In it she states that “a powerful way to show the difference between Czarist and Soviet power was through mass-propaganda art” and explains how this applied not just to Socialist Realism in paintings, but also to textiles, carpets and even china.

Cotton print from the early 1930s featuring the Turkestan-Siberia Railroad. Cotton print. Collection of I. Yasinskaya.

The cotton print above celebrates the Turkestan-Siberia Railroad, juxtaposing the images of the traditional method of transport – camels – with the modern railroad. Another very popular motif was agricultural machinery, as featured on this design by Sergei Burylin in 1925.

Printed cotton textile from the Ivanovo-Voznesensk Textile Factory

It seems that in the late 19th century the Russian manufacturers were printing textiles designed to appeal to the Central Asian market – generally with floral motifs on a vivid red background. We often see these textiles used as the lining on ikat chapans. The textile below is quite different in that it is clearly imitating an ikat design. This example was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and was produced by the factory of Anton Gandurin and Brothers.

Textile from the factory of Anton Gandurin and Brothers, exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893

The D. G. Burylin Ivanovo State Museum of Local History has a really wonderful collection of printed textiles which you can access online. Entitled From hand block printing to printing machines: The fabrics collection of the Ivanovo Calico Museum, this showcases textiles from 1710-1931. The textile samples are shown in date order, giving us a great opportunity to see how the designs changed over time. Compare the two images below from 1900 and 1920 to see the sudden change in style.

Textile samples from 1900
Textile samples from 1920

The earliest textiles in the collection were hand-blocked and the design was achieved using soot and drying oil. We then move on to examples using madder and mordant dyeing, and later to roller printing. There are lots of ways of searching within the collection. I found the section on agitprop textiles in the 1920s fascinating. Many feel very modern and daring in their designs, but some feel like more of a halfway house, incorporating new motifs such as aeroplanes and stars with the familiar floral elements and colour palette.

Textile designed in 1930 by Olga Fedoseeva for the Ivanovo-Voznesensk State Textile Trust.

It’s also interesting to see how some Central Asian people adopted Soviet motifs. In Turkmenistan short neckties were embroidered by women for their husbands to wear to political meetings. Its clear that these were not traditional apparel as the Turkmen use the word galstuk – borrowed from the Russian – to describe them as there was no word for necktie in Turkmen. The embroidery style and the stitches used were typically Turkmen, but the motifs most definitely were not. Many incorporate important dates, the hammer and sickle, red star, or Kremlin clock tower.

A galstuck with traditional motifs in the lower half and a star, the date 1925 and SSSR embroidered in the top section.
Richardson Collection
A galstuk showing the clock tower of the Kremlin. Richardson Collection

A tush kiyiz is a wall-hanging intended for the interior of a Kyrgyz yurt. This particular example from the collection of the British Museum is far too large for that purpose and may well have been commissioned for a public building.

Tush kiyiz – wall-hanging from the 1950s-1980s featuring the emblems of Soviet Socialist Republics worked in chainstitch.
©The Trustees of the British Museum.

OATG members David and Sue Richardson have a very similar example in their collection. It was acquired 20 years ago in Bishkek and was said to have been made by an old lady from Novopavlovka. The date 1959 is embroidered on the central triangle. This textile illustrates the bizarre marriage of Soviet thinking and Soviet design with traditional Kyrgyz nomadic folk art. The border has been embroidered using quite thick cotton threads in chain stitch throughout. 

Tush kiyiz made in 1959. Richardson Collection

The design is a celebration of the Soviet Union, being dominated by circular medallions representing the Soviet Socialist Republics.  Most of the medallions conform to a set format, with a rising sun, a hammer and sickle, and some feature of the Republic concerned in the centre, and a frame of the local produce, mainly agricultural, such as wheat, maize, cotton, or trees. 

A hoopoe embroidered on the central section

The spaces between these medallions are filled with a variety of wild and domestic animals and birds: a butterfly, a goat, parrot, swan, geese, and cow; a horse, woodpecker and white doves of peace.  On the tumar some of the birds, such as the hoopoe and cuckoo, are named and even a Soviet warplane gets in on the act!

A Soviet plane, also embroidered on the central section.

Exhibition: REMINDER – Embroidered Visions – Photographs of Central Asia and the Middle East by Sheila Paine

pitt-rivers-embroidered-visions

Exhibition dates: 1 November 2016 – 30 April 2017

This is a reminder that this exhibition will be open only until the end of this month, and also that a book of the same name is now available (since 25 January), priced at £10. You can find it in the PRM shop or you can purchase it online here.

This exhibition presents a selection of photographs taken by textile expert Sheila Paine during her travels in Central Asia and the Middle East in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. The images have been chosen both to demonstrate the extent of Paine’s travelling, which has culminated in books on embroidery and other subjects, and to reveal her eye for colours and textures also evident elsewhere in her research. Photographs of Central Asia were taken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and the trading city of Kashgar in western China. Scenes from the Middle East include Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and, in particular, Yemen. A video screen also shows highlights of a travel documentary presented by Sheila Paine in Yemen, originally broadcast in 1996.

The photographs have been taken from assorted vantage points, sometimes from the top of a bus while travelling between towns, at other times as more intimate portraits of people encountered. Clothing depicted ranges from plain felted cloaks to elaborately embroidered Turkmen tunics. Other photographs show the material processes behind different types of textile, from spinning wool and winding silver thread, to the manufacture of fur hats and pompom horse-trappings.

The social significance of embroidery has been central to Sheila Paine’s research. This has included seeking out and photographing makers, tracking how textiles and designs migrate across distances, and understanding the meaning, especially protective amuletic functions, applied to many of the motifs. Her published travel trilogy – comprising The Afghan Amulet (1994), The Golden Horde (1997) and The Linen Goddess (2003) – was written about the journeys featured in this exhibition’s photographs, and documents her search for the origins of a triangular amuletic motif that takes her from the Hindu Kush to North Africa. Her interest in the power of such symbols and wearable talismans also resulted in the 2004 book Amulets: A World of Secret Powers, Charms and Magic. Travelling extensively since the mid-1980s, Paine acquired numerous textiles and amulets in the course of this work, many of which are now held in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, alongside her collection of over three thousand photographs generously donated since 2012.

For more information, visit the website of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Exhibition: Colors of the Oasis – Central Asian Ikats

Exhibition dates: 12 March – 4 June 2017

Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats showcases nearly fifty ikat robes and panels from the renowned Murad Megalli Collection of the Textile Museum in Washington DC.

These bold garments were mainstays of cosmopolitan oasis culture in the nineteenth century, worn by inhabitants of different classes and religions throughout crowded marketplaces, private homes, centres of worship and ceremonial places. The ikat textiles on display – including robes for men and women, dresses, trousers and hangings – feature eye-catching designs in dazzling colours.

Supplementing the ikats are historical photographs and didactic materials about the tradition of their creation. The textiles were originally produced in the 1800s in weaving centres across Uzbekistan, including Bukhara, Samarkand and the Fergana Valley.

Additionally, special installations of ikat textiles from India, Japan and Central Asia – on view in the museum’s permanent galleries in the Law Building – demonstrate ikat traditions from around the globe.

For more information, visit the website of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA.

Exhibition: Embroidered Visions – Photographs of Central Asia and the Middle East by Sheila Paine

pitt-rivers-embroidered-visions

Exhibition dates: 1 November 2016 – 30 April 2017

This exhibition presents a selection of photographs taken by textile expert Sheila Paine during her travels in Central Asia and the Middle East in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. The images have been chosen both to demonstrate the extent of Paine’s travelling, which has culminated in books on embroidery and other subjects, and to reveal her eye for colours and textures also evident elsewhere in her research. Photographs of Central Asia were taken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and the trading city of Kashgar in western China. Scenes from the Middle East include Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and, in particular, Yemen. A video screen also shows highlights of a travel documentary presented by Sheila Paine in Yemen, originally broadcast in 1996.

The photographs have been taken from assorted vantage points, sometimes from the top of a bus while travelling between towns, at other times as more intimate portraits of people encountered. Clothing depicted ranges from plain felted cloaks to elaborately embroidered Turkmen tunics. Other photographs show the material processes behind different types of textile, from spinning wool and winding silver thread, to the manufacture of fur hats and pompom horse-trappings.

The social significance of embroidery has been central to Sheila Paine’s research. This has included seeking out and photographing makers, tracking how textiles and designs migrate across distances, and understanding the meaning, especially protective amuletic functions, applied to many of the motifs. Her published travel trilogy – comprising The Afghan Amulet (1994), The Golden Horde (1997) and The Linen Goddess (2003) – was written about the journeys featured in this exhibition’s photographs, and documents her search for the origins of a triangular amuletic motif that takes her from the Hindu Kush to North Africa. Her interest in the power of such symbols and wearable talismans also resulted in the 2004 book Amulets: A World of Secret Powers, Charms and Magic. Travelling extensively since the mid-1980s, Paine acquired numerous textiles and amulets in the course of this work, many of which are now held in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, alongside her collection of over three thousand photographs generously donated since 2012.

For more information, visit the website of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Exhibition: Embroidered Tales and Woven Dreams

brunei-gallery-embroidered-tales-and-woven-dreams

Exhibition dates: 19 January – 25 March 2017

The exhibition Embroidered Tales and Woven Dreams is a colour-coded social history of the vast and geographically varied landscape known as the Silk Road (or originally the ‘Seidenstrasse’, a name given to this road by the German explorer Richthofen), which stretches from Central Asia to Western Europe. Its regional history will be explored through the embroidered tales and woven textiles of the communities who lived north and south of this ancient trade corridor across Asia.

The textiles on display have recorded a wonderful vernacular art, as embroidered tales, told by women storytellers, who were guardians of their customs and traditions for their individual tribes, castes and communities.

This exhibition, with a series of related lectures by internationally renowned lecturers, will examine the immensely rich, culturally fascinating identity of the Central Asian, Middle Eastern and South Asian landscapes, through the heritage of their embroidered textiles and costumes. It is a rich seam of historical material, meticulously embroidered and woven.

While the Silk Road, as a concept, refers to an area that underwent a thousand years of turbulent history, the physical links were comprised of smaller land routes, often through difficult terrain, and passable only by specialised trade caravans.

The northern ‘–stans’ of the Uzbeks, Kyrghiz, Tajiks, Turcoman and Khazaks exchanged goods with distant neighbours in Afghanistan and northern India, and, depending upon varying political arrangements, the even more distant powers of South Asia, Persia, Byzantium, Russia and China.

The exhibition will briefly examine the political upheavals that destroyed the lives of these communities and their nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled lifestyles.

For more information, visit the website of the Brunei Gallery, London, UK.

Exhibition: Sewing Paradise – A Sisterhood Through Suzani

Irma Stern Museum - Sewing Paradise

Exhibition dates: 2–30 July 2016

Sewing Paradise, on show at the University of Cape Town’s Irma Stern Museum, is a celebration of the contribution women make to the world through their creative talents. The show will feature Manina Baumann’s magnificent collection of hand-embroidered Uzbek suzanis as well as art works that have been created in response to these Central Asian textiles. Curated by Michael Chandler, the all-female exhibition aims to explore the notion of the inner-garden; a timeless metaphor for a state of ideal beauty and harmony. Exhibiting local and international artists, the show will also feature lesser-known works by Irma Stern, who herself was an ardent textile enthusiast and collector.

For more information, visit the website of the Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.

Event: A Show and Tell of Tribal and Village Weavings from Iran and Central Asia

Legge Carpets webpage

Event date: Monday 18 July 2016

Oxford Asian Textile Group have organised a show and tell evening in Oxford with Angela and Christopher Legge of tribal and village weavings from Iran and Central Asia. There are 15 places available for this event. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to oatg.events@gmail.com to confirm your place.

Location: Legge Carpets & Textiles, 25 Oakthorpe Road, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7BD.
Time: Arrival from 7.15pm to start at 7.30pm.
Free for members, £3 for non-members.

For more information about Legge Carpets, please visit their website.

Textile Tidbits: South to the Great Steppe – The Travels of Thomas and Lucy Atkinson in Eastern Kazakhstan, 1847–52

Nick Fielding - Atkinson book - Sultan Souk and family

For today’s Textile Tidbit, I wanted to share with you some news about OATG member Nick Fielding’s new book. South to the Great Steppe, about the English explorers Thomas and Lucy Atkinson was, in part at least, inspired by his interest in Central Asian textiles. He says:

“It was while trying to work out the various population movements in Central Asia that I first came across the Atkinsons. That led me to Thomas’ book Oriental and Western Siberia, which contains many interesting descriptions of Steppe nomads and their clothing. Thomas was also a very accomplished artist and his watercolours show their costumes to great effect. I realised that the Atkinsons had been almost forgotten and decided to find out more about them. That eventually led to the publication of the book, as well as taking me on many fascinating journeys to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Siberia.”

Nick says he has now started on a second book on the Atkinsons, this one covering all their travels, including in Eastern Siberia. In total the intrepid couple travelled more than 40,000 miles, much of it on horseback, during almost seven years of travel. Lucy also gave birth to their son in what is now eastern Kazakhstan. This summer Nick will take a group of ten of the Atkinson descendants to this region to visit the place where their ancestor was born and to see other sites associated with the couple.

South to the Great Steppe: The Travels of Thomas and Lucy Atkinson in Eastern Kazakhstan, 1847–52 was published by FIRST, London, in 2015 (ISBN-13: 978-0954640996). Link to the book on Amazon here. The picture above is an engraving of one of Thomas Atkinson’s paintings from his book.

Event: Lecture – Change and Tradition in Soviet Central Asia

GW Textile Museum - Old Patterns- Lecture

Event date: 28 April 2016, 6pm

Textiles have been part of Central Asian identity for hundreds of years, peaking in the nineteenth century with the production of ikats that featured bold, original designs and vibrant colours. In the twentieth century, the Soviet Union came to power, bringing economic change and “modernization” to the region. Join the Textile Museum on 28 April for a lecture by expert Andrew Hale on the influence of revolutionary Russia on Central Asia’s textile and other traditions.

Hale is a collector, curator, and internationally recognised expert in the nomadic textiles and silk-weaving traditions of Central Asia, as well as the author of numerous articles and books on Central Asian art. During his talk, he will pull from his personal archive of over two thousand photographs documenting this region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This lecture explores themes from the exhibition ‘Old Patterns, New Order: Socialist Realism in Central Asia’, open until 29 May.

For more information, visit the website of the GW Textile Museum, Washington DC, USA.

Event: Turkestan Journey – Exhibition Talk

Photograph copyright Sasha Gusov

Photograph copyright Sasha Gusov

Event date: 26 April 2016, 6:45–8:30pm

To coincide with their current exhibition, ‘Turkestan Journey’ (April 19 – May 12), an exhibition of a collection of jewellery and textiles from Central Asia, Asia House in London are hosting a talk and discussion. This will look at the development and understanding of cultural identity from the region and examine the cumulative and cultural experience gathered by artisan jewellery makers throughout their rich and varied history.

The talk will be co-presented by Galina Shlepyanov who will speak on jewellery-wearing traditions in Central Asia, and Alima Nazarbayeva, a graduate from London’s Courtauld Institute, who will speak specifically about Kazakh jewellery.

Admission to the talk is free, but booking is essential.

For more information, and to book a place at this talk, visit the website of Asia House, London.